I think it’s really important, if we’re going to integrate well, to learn something of our new home. So today’s festivities had me swotting up on a little French history. Hope you find something interesting amongst my 20 facts.
- Bastille Day has been celebrated since 1790 and became a French National Holiday in 1880. This may seem odd, considering the bloody history that Bastille Day itself sparked, but what is being celebrated is the birth of the Republic (formed in 1792) and the associated concepts of Libert, Equality and Fraternity.
- The Bastille itself was built in the 14th Century as a fortress to defen Eastern Paris from an English attack during the 100 years war. However , it was captured by the forces of Henry ‘Band of Brothers’ V, and used as a prison. Following this period it was of course returned to the French.
- The Bastille was forced on 14th July , 1789. It contained only seven elderly prisoners; these included four forgers, two ‘lunatics’ and one ‘deviant’ aristocrat.
- The aristocrat was not, as one might suppose, the Marquis de Sade. He had been transferred to an insane asylum just prior to he Bastille’s storming. There was high tension due to food shortages in all of France and the military governor of the Bastille, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, feared that it would be a target for the and had requested reinforcements. The Marquis de Sade had attempted to incite a crowd outside his window in response to this political tension by yelling: “They are massacring the prisoners; you must come and free them.” Hence he had to go!
- The prison also did not contain Voltaire, who had previously been an inmate.
- Ninety-eight attackers and one defender died in the fighting – the Bastille’s governor, Bernard-René de Launay, was killed and his head displayed around Paris on a spike.
- By the summer of 1789 France, ruled by King Louis XVI with his queen Marie Antionette, suffered severe food shortages. In June, the Third Estate, which represented commoners and the lower clergy, declared itself the National Assembly and called for the drafting of a constitution. Louis legalized the National Assembly, but then surrounded Paris with troops and dismissed Jacques Necker, a popular minister of state who had supported reforms.
- Mobs began rioting in Paris at the instigation of revolutionary leaders.
- De Launay had received a company of Swiss mercenary soldiers on July 7 in response to his request and on July 12 250 barrels of gunpowder were transferred to the Bastille from the Paris Arsenal, which was more vulnerable to attack. De Launay raised its two drawbridges with his men inside the Bastille.
- On July 13, mobs stormed the Paris Arsenal and another armory and acquired thousands of muskets.
- At dawn on July 14, a great crowd armed with muskets, swords, and various makeshift weapons began to gather around the Bastille.De Launay, having received one delegation of revolutionary leaders, refused to surrender the fortress and its munitions to a second. He promised them he would not open fire on the crowd and showed them that his cannons were not loaded. Instead of calming them a group of men, confident of no retaliation, climbed over the outer wall of the courtyard and lowered drawbridge.
- Three hundred revolutionaries rushed in. When the mob outside began trying to lower the second drawbridge, Launay ordered his men to open fire. One hundred rioters were killed or wounded.
- However, more and more Parisians were converging on the Bastille. Around 3 p.m., even a company of deserters from the French joined them. The soldiers dragged five cannons into the courtyard and aimed them at the Bastille. Launay surrendered; he and and his men were taken into custody. The gunpowder and cannons were seized, the seven prisoners of the Bastille were freed and De Launey met his fate.
- On hearing of the incident the King asked “Is it a revolt?” He was told “No sire, it’s a revolution.”
- Joined by four-fifths of the French army and with the weaponry they needed the revolutionaries seized control of Paris and then the French countryside, forcing King Louis XVI to accept a constitutional government.
- In 1792, the monarchy was abolished and ‘The Reign of Terror’ ensued in which many aristocrats were executed. Louis and his wife Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine for treason in 1793.
- Bastille Day is celebrated in Paris with a military parade on the Champs Elysees called the Bastille Day Military Parade. It ends at the Arc de Triomphe, as this is the monument that honors those who died while fighting for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
- Most municipalities in France celebrate Bastille Day beginning with a Mayoral speech. This is often followed by a war memorial wreath-laying as well as fireworks, dances, music and food.
- In 2004 British servicemen celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale by taking part in the National Bastille Day Parade in Paris for the first time and some embers have been sent to represent Britain each year.
- The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, was penned by army engineer Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French revolutionary wars in 1792. It reflects the period in history and, like everything, sounds so much prettier in French. To give you a taste of it the first verse and chorus can be translated as;
Let’s go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody flag is raised! (repeat)
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!
Grab your weapons, citizens!
Form your batallions!
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood
Water our fields!